Why do PSU football coaches, teammates, call Derrick Tangelo 'Congo'?
Penn State coach James Franklin and members of the Nittany Lions' roster commonly refer to defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo not by his name, but rather 'Congo.'
The 6-foot-2, 308-pound graduate senior who transferred in from Duke earlier this year has quickly built a bond with his teammates and won a starting job despite being on campus for just a handful of months. Some wondered if he'd be ready for such a role, and so far, the Maryland native has been up to the task with five tackles and a fumble recovery throughout a 3-0 start, and others were curious why he has the nickname that he does.
On Wednesday, Tangelo provided that answer, and it actually dates back to a middle school season and perhaps even his first big play on the gridiron.
"It's funny you ask that, because I've been getting called Congo since I was, like, in eighth grade," Tangelo said. "I started playing football in eighth grade, and when I made my first play, I don't know why, but for some reason, I beat my chest, so they were like 'okay, like, King of the Congo,'. We kind of ran with that for a little bit, and then my coaches just started calling me Congo, so every time somebody would introduce me, they would just say, 'oh this is Congo, this is Congo, this is Congo'.
"From eighth grade to even today, I just get introduced as Congo. It's even to the point where my parents even call me Congo."
The son of Angelo Kasa and Marie Luhnmbu, Tangelo played at the Bullis School in Maryland, where he was actually rated as just a two-star offensive lineman by Rivals. He committed to the Blue Devils but always dreamed about playing at Penn State, where classmates Jon Holland and Cam Brown did, but with that door closed out of high school, he went to work on improving his craft in the ACC.
Fast forward a handful of years, and the Nittany Lions had a need at defensive tackle at the same time Tangelo was considering a change of scenery to close out his college career. What wasn't meant to be in 2017 suddenly was in 2021.
"Penn State's always been a dream school of mine," Tangelo said. "I felt like leaving Duke would give me more exposure. I just felt I needed a fresh start. I feel like I had a great time at Duke and I accomplished a lot of things but I felt like there was more for me to do."
And it didn't take long for both sides to realize the best place for him to do that was in State College.
"I really loved my teammates at Duke," Tangelo said. "I love Duke in general, being there for years, but I just felt like I needed to change, so when I hit the portal. It was actually interesting. I didn't really get a lot of buzz at first, and then as soon as I saw Penn State state, I was like, yeah I'm talking to Penn State.
"The conversations just advanced, and we were kind of saying what each other wanted to hear. Once Penn State came into the picture, I really just tried to focus on Penn State."
It's worked out well for both, as some offseason departures left Brent Pry's defense thin inside. Tangelo, who says he thinks of himself as a fun guy who provides energy and a spark both on the field and off of it, has wasted no time showing why his new coaches wanted to bring him in. One play in particular that stands out came back during the 28-20 win over Auburn, when he hustled downfield to stop Tigers' back Jarquez Hunter from scoring in the fourth quarter. Four plays later, the visitors would turn the ball over on downs, and Penn State would hang on from there.
It's just one way he's made an impression so far.
"I think he's embraced it all and is playing with a lot of confidence," Franklin said. "The thing I'll say about him is, Derrick has got, it's weird for me to say Derrick because we always say 'Congo', but his personality, I hope you guys get to know him better throughout this year because he's been an unbelievable fit in our locker room.
"He's got a bunch of personality, really interacts with the players and the coaches really well, and I think that's been important in our locker room, too."
With hopes of one day being a sports broadcaster, Tangelo is working on a communications arts and sciences degree at Penn State after graduating with a bachelor's in sociology and a minor in cultural anthropology at his first stop. Of course, he hopes to be playing football for a long time before he starts talking about it from above a field somewhere, just like his cousin, Prince Shembo, did, and with the way he's played so far, there's a strong chance that will happen.
"I feel like I'm good at doing my job, whatever the coach asks me to do," Tangelo said. "I feel like I just got to be physical, play fast, and just have fun.
"You know the d-line, we're a veteran group, so we've played a lot of football, like individually but also collectively, so just being able to talk to people who've been in certain situations or the same situations as you, has really helped my playstyle increase."
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